Servers Alive Case Study: Overview
With slow growth or even reductions in IT staffing continuing and more emphasis on streamlining processes and procedures than ever before, automated system monitoring becomes a key component in a comprehensive IT strategy. A solution must not only meet today's needs, but provide flexibility and room for growth in a swiftly changing environment.
Servers Alive meets all those needs and provides an effective, extensible solution, offering more flexibility and features than many much more expensive software packages. Consider the following case study whose subject is a major business outsourcing provider who needs to update and consolidate their solution for server monitoring.
Currently their solution consists of server monitoring at one location, remote from the main data center. Poor compatibility of the software client agent with newer server operating systems and the need to update settings on every server for the monitoring account whenever the password is changed cause false alarms and waste hours of the server administration team's time when they respond. In addition, the company has recently upgraded their phone system and added a large number of Unix and Linux servers that the current Windows-only software is unable to support.
The company identified the need for monitoring their new servers as the phone system is an integral part of the call center services that they provide. In exploring potential solutions, they determined that ideally they would like to standardize using one monitoring package for all their servers.
First, they needed a monitoring solution that could handle checking processes and disk space on both Windows and Unix servers. It should also be able to check web servers, Oracle and Microsoft SQL databases. There should be no settings on the client that require manual changes, and preferably no client side software required at all.
Next, the company needed flexible up-to-date status and emergency alert reporting. Since their business model is providing outsourced services, the contract with their client specifies penalties if certain uptime and availability requirements are not met. Normal reporting should be logged to a syslog server and updated to a web page so that management and IT staff can easily check availability. In addition, on-call staff should be alerted to unavailable servers or potential trouble situations by both email and SMS messages to their cell phones.
Ideally, the company would also like the software solution to be able to attempt some simple automated correction, such as restarting a service or rebooting servers. The company would also like a Windows platform solution, since most of their staff is more familiar with Windows. In addition, ease of use figures largely in their requirements because they wanted to implement the solution quickly with a minimum of training.
The company compared several software packages across a variety of price ranges. Eventually they decided on Servers Alive from Woodstone, since it is competitively priced and provides all the required features. Support availability also figured in their decision, with Woodstone providing additional support contracts at a modest fee. One of the strongest reasons for deciding on Servers Alive was not the price, however, but the variety of features above and beyond the established requirements.
In addition to the required features, Servers Alive provides the ability to group items to be monitored and staff into separate groups, helping to make sure that only the responsible staff get alerts on problems and updates with their systems. It also provides a mechanism for global information change, which proves a valuable feature in environments with high staff turnover. Servers Alive also provides flexible scheduling, allowing for entry of the on-call schedule and regular maintenance windows. In addition to notification by email and SMS, Servers Alive is also able to utilize several instant messaging services to send alerts and updates.
Servers Alive provides not only the ability to monitor a web server for availability, but also to verify the content of pages. In addition to updating a web page with server status, it also allows a variety of methods for uploading the page that are more secure than regular FTP. In addition, it can provide a WAP version of the page, for viewing from cell phones.
Servers Alive has many plugins available to extend it's functionality and provides a framework for scripting customized checks. Woodstone also supplies example source code for use by the customer in developing their own custom plugins.
Overall, Woodstone's Servers Alive product not only met but exceeded the requirements of the customer. It also was more cost effective and easier to implement and use than many similar packages. The flexibility made it a good fit for a quickly changing server environment, and the extensibility guaranteed that it would remain a valuable part of the overall IT strategy.
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Stephen A. De La Marche
Data Center Operations Manager
AtlantiCare Health System, Atlantic City Medical Center & InfoShare